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Stretch, bend, flex for a healthy, active life

Dorothy Carlson, 87, can do one thing many her age cannot: touch her toes. She credits aerobics for her health.

By KIBRET MARKOS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Ed Carlson flew in from North Carolina last week and walked into his mother's living room to give her a present for her 87th birthday: his own doctorate degree in dental services he had earned decades ago from Emory University.

Ed Carlson, 59, had been a dentist for almost 30 years, but doesn't feel the degree he earned in 1965 is all his.

"My mother worked so hard raising me and putting me through college that I figured out it was our degree," said the son, who settled on the diploma after thinking hard about an appropriate and meaningful present.

The gift choice required thought, but at least he expected the surprise presentation to be easy.

After all, he knew where to find her: a one-hour aerobics class at the Therapy and Sports Center, 412 12th Ave. N. She hadn't missed class in 22 years, and she attributes much of her good health to her regimen.

But since her son had told her he would be coming to town to fly back to North Carolina with her, Dorothy Carlson stayed home to pack. So she missed Wednesday's class, and he had to catch up with her at her home instead.

Born in 1913 and a 1931 graduate of St. Petersburg High School, she knows more than luck is at work in her long, healthy life. In fact, she feels she has earned many of those extra years through her aerobics routine.

"A lot of my friends have died," she said. "Two are still around but they use canes. And that is something which keeps me motivated."

Still, when Dorothy Carlson started doing aerobics two decades ago, fitness had little to do with her decision. "My husband had Parkinson's, and I started going to aerobics classes because I needed some time to get away," she said.

But once she got started, she saw other value.

"I am a firm believer of aerobics," she said. Indeed, nothing less than total faith can have you hopping in an aerobics class for as long as she has.

"She is very fit, very flexible and consistent," said Julie Larson, Dorothy Carlson's aerobics instructor.

In the middle of her living room, Dorothy Carlson somewhat self-consciously but almost swiftly sat on the floor, stretched her legs apart, touched her toes and put her forehead to her knee. She repeated the exercise a couple of times, and stood. No clumsy moves.

"I think it's something of value for active, healthy older people to see other active healthy older people, so they know that they are being normal rather than being an exception," Ed Carlson said.

The aerobics class is also a form of social contact for Dorothy Carlson as her instructors and those in her class get together for her birthday or take her out to the Don CeSar, Ed Carlson said.

"She never sees a doctor unless it is absolutely necessary," her son said.

The last time it was "absolutely necessary" was two years ago. She wasn't sick. Her old doctor retired, and she had to meet the new one.

She is doing the right things for a long, healthy life.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women and one in eight men over age 50 will suffer from osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease that leads to painful fractures, loss of height and independence, and can even lead to death.

The foundation says the disease, contrary to popular belief, is not part of aging, but is a preventable disease for most people.

"Weight-bearing exercise" is on the top of the foundation's agenda in a "comprehensive, lifelong approach to building healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis."

Express Scripts Inc., a pharmacy benefit organization, said in its 1999 Drug Trend Report that expenditure on prescription drugs has been rising since 1993, especially among senior citizens. Not for Dorothy Carlson, though.

"The only medicine she takes is aerobics," her son said. "She takes no drugs."

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